Recent Posts

Egyptian court acquits women jailed for ‘inciting debauchery’ on TikTok

January 12: An Egyptian appeals court has acquitted two young women imprisoned for “attacking society’s values” over videos they published on TikTok, a court official said.

“The court of appeal accepted the appeal filed by Haneen Hossam and Mawada al-Adham against their imprisonment … on charges of incitement to debauchery and attacking society’s values,” the official said, asking not to be named, the Guardian reported.

The women had been sentenced to two years in prison in July for “breaching public morals”.

Hossam had been arrested in April after posting a video on TikTok, telling her 1.3 million subscribers that girls could work with her for money.

She was accused of “inciting debauchery”, “attacking public morals” and “human trafficking”.

Al-Adham, who has about 2 million Instagram followers, was also arrested in May after publishing satirical videos.

They are among a dozen influencers arrested in 2020 for “breaching public morals” in the conservative country.

In June, an Egyptian court sentenced the belly dancer Sama al-Masry to three years over “inciting debauchery” on social media after posting a TikTok dance video.

In 2018, a female singer was detained on the same charge after an online video clip of her dancing went viral.

The previous year, a female pop singer was sentenced to two years in prison on similar charges, also over a video deemed provocative. Her sentence was reduced to a year on appeal.

US Supreme Court revives abortion-pill restriction

Washington, January 12 (NYT): In the US Supreme Court’s first ruling on abortion since the arrival of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the court on Tuesday reinstated a federal requirement that women seeking to end their pregnancies using medications pick up a pill in person from a hospital or medical office.

The court’s brief order was unsigned, and the three more liberal justices dissented, The New York Times reported. The only member of the majority to offer an explanation was Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who said the ruling was a limited one that deferred to the views of experts.

The question, he wrote, was not whether the requirement imposed “an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion as a general matter.” Instead, he wrote, it was whether a federal judge should have second-guessed the Food and Drug Administration’s determination “because of the court’s own evaluation of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“Here as in related contexts concerning government responses to the pandemic,” the chief justice wrote, quoting an earlier opinion, “my view is that courts owe significant deference to the politically accountable entities with the ‘background, competence and expertise to assess public health.’”

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, said the majority was grievously wrong.

“This country’s laws have long singled out abortions for more onerous treatment than other medical procedures that carry similar or greater risks,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “Like many of those laws, maintaining the F.D.A.’s in-person requirements” for picking up the drug “during the pandemic not only treats abortion exceptionally, it imposes an unnecessary, irrational and unjustifiable undue burden on women seeking to exercise their right to choose.”

She suggested that the next administration should revisit the issue.

“One can only hope that the government will reconsider and exhibit greater care and empathy for women seeking some measure of control over their health and reproductive lives in these unsettling times,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.

Julia Kaye, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Supreme Court had taken an extraordinary step.

“The court’s ruling rejects science, compassion and decades of legal precedent in service of the Trump administration’s anti-abortion agenda,” she said in a statement. “It is mind-boggling that the Trump administration’s top priority on its way out the door is to needlessly endanger even more people during this dark pandemic winter — and chilling that the Supreme Court allowed it.”

Judge Theodore D. Chuang, of the Federal District Court in Maryland, had blocked the requirement in light of the coronavirus pandemic, saying that a needless trip to a medical facility during a health crisis very likely imposed an undue burden on the constitutional right to abortion.

The case concerned a restriction on medication abortions, which are permitted in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. About 60 percent of abortions performed in those weeks use two drugs rather than surgery.

The first drug, mifepristone, blocks the effects of progesterone, a hormone without which the lining of the uterus begins to break down. A second drug, misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours later, induces contractions of the uterus that expel its contents.

The contested measure requires women to appear in person to pick up the mifepristone and to sign a form, even when they had already consulted with their doctors remotely. The women can then take the drug when and where they choose. There is no requirement that women pick up misoprostol in person, and it is available at retail and mail-order pharmacies.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups, all represented by the A.C.L.U., sued to suspend the requirement that women make a trip to obtain the first drug in light of the pandemic. There was no good reason, the groups said, to require a visit when the drug could be delivered or mailed.

Judge Chuang blocked the measure in July, saying that requiring pregnant women, many of them poor, to travel to obtain the drug imposed needless risk and delay, particularly given that the pandemic had forced many clinics to reduce their hours.

He imposed a nationwide injunction, reasoning that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has more than 60,000 members practicing in all 50 states and that its membership includes some 90 percent of the nation’s obstetricians and gynecologists.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., refused to stay Judge Chuang’s injunction while an appeal moved forward. The Trump administration, which often seeks Supreme Court intervention on an emergency basis when it loses in the lower courts, asked the justices in August to stay the injunction.

In October, in its first encounter with the case, the Supreme Court issued an unusual order returning the case to Judge Chuang, saying that “a more comprehensive record would aid this court’s review” and instructing him to rule within 40 days. In the meantime, the disputed requirement remained suspended.

Judge Chuang issued a second opinion on Dec. 9, again blocking the requirement. The “health risk has only gotten worse,” he wrote.

The Trump administration returned to the Supreme Court. Its brief focused mainly on data from Indiana and Nebraska, where state laws continued to require women to pick up the pills in person.

In those states, the administration told the justices, the number of abortions had increased compared to the previous year. That showed, the administration’s brief said, that the requirement did not amount to an unconstitutional burden on the right to abortion.

That argument, lawyers for the medical group wrote in response, “defies rudimentary principles of statistical analysis.” Many factors could account for the rise in the number of abortions in the two states during the pandemic, they wrote, including disruptions in access to contraceptives, unemployment and other circumstances “that have made unwanted pregnancy more likely and parenting less tenable for some.”

Justice Sotomayor was also unimpressed by the argument. “Reading the government’s statistically insignificant, cherry-picked data,” she wrote, “is no more informative than reading tea leaves.”

US Supreme Court rejects Trump bid to expedite election appeals

January 11: The U.S. Supreme Court refused to expedite appeals filed by President Donald Trump and his allies to reverse his election defeats in key states, formally confirming that the justices won’t intervene before President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

Trump and his supporters filed their appeals weeks ago with the goal of nullifying Biden’s Electoral College victory before Congress met to count the votes on Jan. 6. The justices rejected the bids to expedite without comment or public dissent as part of a list of orders released Monday, Bloomberg reported.

The appeals, including cases filed by lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell as well as the Trump campaign, claim without foundation that Biden’s victory was the product of widespread fraud, caused in part by the use of mail-in ballots. The appeals challenge Biden’s wins in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan and Arizona.

The court had already rejected two Trump-backed bids to reverse Biden wins in pivotal states, each time without public dissent from any of the nine justices.

The court could agree later to use a lingering 2020 dispute to reset the rules for future presidential contests. In that case, Republicans say the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unconstitutionally usurped the power of the state legislature by allowing three extra days for ballots to arrive because of the pandemic and anticipated mail delays.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in the Pennsylvania case before the Nov. 3 election, but three conservative justices indicated at the time they thought the state court had overstepped.

The cases affected by Monday’s orders are Donald J. Trump v. Bookvar, 20-845; Trump v. Biden, 20-882; Trump v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, 20-883; Wood v. Raffensperger, 20-799; Ward v. Jackson, 20-809; Kelly v. Pennsylvania, 20-810; and King v. Whitmer, 20-815.

In a separate case, the high court on Monday turned away a Democratic bid to force universal vote-by-mail in Texas, leaving intact a state law that lets people cast no-excuse absentee ballots only if they are 65 or older.

UK businessman fails in effort to use European laws to avoid £162,000 tax bill

London, April 2: Prominent UK businessman and political donor Arron Banks has failed in his attempt to use human rights laws to dismiss a £162,000 tax bill.

The Brexit-backing millionaire has been resisting an HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) assessment that he owes the money for an inheritance tax liability on political donations to Ukip party. Banks, one of the self-styled “bad boys of Brexit”, gave almost £1m in donations to the party between October 2014 and March 2015.

A written ruling by the upper tribunal delivered on Wednesday noted that donations to political parties that have two MPs elected at the previous general election, or one MP elected and a total of 150,000 votes, are exempt from inheritance tax, The Guardian reported.

While Ukip did receive 919,471 votes across the UK in the 2010 general election, the party did not return a single MP to the House of Commons. Consequently, HMRC billed Banks for £162,945.34.

Banks challenged the decision at the first-tier tribunal, arguing the law on political donations being exempt from inheritance tax breached both his human rights and EU law. He claimed the provisions of the Inheritance Tax Act were unlawfully discriminatory under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and also breached his – and Ukip’s – right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under the convention. He further argued that the imposition of a tax charge on the donations involved a breach of the UK’s obligations regarding the Treaty on European Union.

The initial tribunal dismissed his challenge in November 2018 and Banks took his case to the upper tribunal, which has rejected his appeal. Mrs Justice Falk ruled the difference in treatment between Banks and an individual who donated to a political party with two MPs, or one MP and which received more than 150,000 votes, was not discriminatory under European human rights law.

She also ruled that the first-tier tribunal was wrong to have found that the difference in treatment was discriminatory on the grounds of his political opinion. The judge said the provisions of the Inheritance Tax Act were proportionate in the pursuit of “a rational and legitimate aim”, namely “to provide tax relief on donations to political parties that are participating in parliamentary democracy by being represented in the House of Commons”.

Amazon General Counsel’s Leaked Comments Could Fuel Retaliation, Race Discrimination Claim

April 6: Inc. general counsel David Zapolsky’s leaked comments against a warehouse employee who was fired could prompt a case for unlawful termination and retaliation and also a potential claim for race discrimination.  

The tech giant’s firing of US warehouse employee and protest organiser Chris Smalls had already sparked controversy. But the situation exploded when reports surfaced, based on leaked notes from an internal meeting, that Zapolsky had bad-mouthed Smalls while cooking up a plan to bolster Amazon’s public relations situation.   

Amazon has stated that Smalls was fired because he violated the company’s 14-day quarantine policy by returning to work after coming into contact with a co-worker who tested positive for COVID-19.

Smalls has asserted in a written statement that Amazon had not quarantined other employees when he was on the job and believes that he was targeted for speaking out about unsafe working conditions during the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” Zapolsky reportedly stated, reported. 

He added, “We should spend the first part of our response strongly laying out the case for why the organiser’s conduct was immoral, unacceptable, and arguably illegal, in detail, and only then follow with our usual talking points about worker safety. Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organising movement.”

Zapolsky’s comments could prompt a case for unlawful termination and retaliation and also a potential claim for race discrimination, according to employment lawyer Carolyn Wheeler, senior counsel at Katz, Marshall & Banks in Washington, D.C.

“Well, they really stepped in it,” Wheeler said Monday in an interview. “They just handled it 100% the wrong way by firing him.”

U.S. Supreme Court dismisses plea challenging ban on religious advertisements on Washington transit

Washington, April 6: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a religious rights dispute brought by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington against the Washington area transit authority over its policy barring advertisements in its stations and on buses and trains on divisive issues including religion.

The conservative-majority court, usually receptive to religious rights claims, declined to review the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s 2015 policy that bars political, religious and advocacy advertisements in the transportation system that serves the U.S. capital region, The New York Times reported.

One of the nine justices, conservative Brett Kavanaugh, could not participate due to his prior service on a court that previously dealt with the case. That means the Supreme Court could have turned out to be split 4-4 between its liberal and conservative justices, leaving the conservative majority unable to ensure a victory in the case.

“Because the full court is unable to hear this case, it makes a poor candidate for our review,” conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a statement regarding the court’s action. If Kavanaugh had participated “our intervention and a reversal would be warranted,” Gorsuch added.

A federal judge in Washington declined to impose an injunction blocking the advertisement policy. The decision was upheld in 2019 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which ruled that the policy did not discriminate against religious entities.

Archdiocese officials argued that the transit agency’s policy violated religious and free speech rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment as well as a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that protects religious rights.

‘Shameless’: Anger as China quarantines freed human rights lawyer 400km from home

Hong Kong, April 5: Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was jailed for four and a half years of subversion, has been released from prison but barred from reuniting with his wife and son in Beijing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

His wife, Li Wenzu, fears that the authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to hold him under de facto house arrest indefinitely. She said Wang has been released from prison but authorities had sent him to his home town, Jinan, in the north-eastern province of Shandong (400km south of Beijing) for quarantine.

Chinese authorities have been using compulsory quarantine as a pretext to detain or restrict the movements of government critics.

“The government is continuing to restrict his personal freedoms and forcing us to be separated,” Li told the Guardian. “This behaviour is shameless, I’m absolutely opposed to this and am very angry.

“I fear the government is using the pandemic as an excuse to detain him. Would it be just 14 days as they say? I can’t trust them. So long as my husband has no freedom, I’ll continue to fight until he comes back.”

Wang called his wife from the prison on Saturday telling her to refrain from going to meet him in prison. In a recording she posted on Twitter, Wang said he had to be quarantined “for some time” due to the pandemic. When Li, who has been frequently harassed by the authorities, angrily asked whether he was prompted to say that under duress, he said: “We’ll be back together, but there’ll be a process.”

“The Linyi prison… forced Quanzhang to ‘persuade’ me into accepting the arrangement of sending him to Jinan. I absolutely oppose it,” Li said on Twitter: “Wang Quanzhang needs real freedom, our family needs to be reunited.”

In a practice dubbed “non-release release” by respected China law expert Jerome Cohen at the New York University, Chinese rights activists are often released from prison into de facto house arrest or enforced restriction to their native village, where they remain for years. “What will Wang Quanzhang’s ‘release’ on April 5 amount to?” asked Cohen in his blog. 

Wang, a lawyer who had taken on politically sensitive cases and defended activists and members of the banned religious group Falun Gong, was sentenced to jail in January 2019 on the blanket charge of “subversion of state power”.

He was one of more than 300 lawyers and activists detained in a wave of crackdowns that started in July 2015. He was the last lawyer of the group to be convicted, with his trial taking place three-and-a-half years after he was taken away by the authorities.

China introduces new, strict laws on copyright, IPR

China has issued new, tougher guidelines for protection of patents, copyrights and other intellectual property to deal with problems such as piracy that plague the country and cause tremendous economic losses. 

The new order strengthened laws for protecting intellectual property rights, increased compensation for infringements and stricter enforcement of existing laws. The new laws also lower the threshold for criminal prosecution of IPR offences and include confiscation of illegal income and destruction of counterfeit goods.

The decision seems to have been deliberately taken at a time when a push is required for the slow progress in trade talks with the United States, though Chinese authorities have not said so.

 China introduces new, strict laws on copyright, IPR 

Genocide denial outlawed in Bosnia

The Guardian

July 24, 2021: The top international official in Bosnia has outlawed denial of genocide in the Balkan country to counter attempts by Bosnia’s Serbs to deny the scope of the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, Europe’s only post-second world war genocide.

Valentin Inzko, the outgoing head of Bosnia’s Office of the High Representative, or OHR, introduced the changes to the country’s criminal code on Friday, bringing in prison sentences of up to five years for genocide denial and for the glorification of war criminals, including naming of streets or public institutions after them.

The OHR is the top international body overseeing implementation of the peace agreement that ended Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. It has the authority to impose decisions or dismiss officials who undermine the post-war ethnic balance and reconciliation efforts among the Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslim, Bosnia’s Serbs and Croats.

The international court of justice and the international criminal court for Former Yugoslavia declared the Bosnian Serb killings of more than 8,000 Bosniaks that took place in Srebrenica during the Bosnian war as genocide. However, Bosnian Serb officials and neighbouring Serbia have refused to accept the designation.

Disclaimer: This article was originally published by the Guardian.

Hong Kong radio host faces first ‘sedition’ trial after China’s takeover

Agence France-Presse

July 29, 2021: A pro-democracy Hong Kong radio host went on trial Thursday for sedition in the first use of the colonial-era law since the city’s handover to China as authorities broaden their criminalisation of dissent.

Tam Tak-chi, 48, is among a growing number of activists charged with sedition, a little-used decades-old law that prosecutors have dusted off in the last twelve months.

It is separate from the sweeping national security law that was imposed on Hong Kong last year, which has also been used to prosecute dissidents.

Best known by his moniker “Fast Beat”, online talk show host Tam faces eight sedition charges for slogans he either uttered or wrote between January and July last year.

He also faces other charges including inciting an unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct.

At the opening of his trial on Thursday, prosecutors read out those slogans, as well as some pro-democracy speeches Tam gave, often littered with colourful Cantonese curse words.

The slogans included “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, “Corrupt cops, all of your family go to hell”, “Disband Hong Kong police, delay no more” and “Down with the Communist Party of China”.

The trial is a watershed legal moment for Hong Kong because it will set a precedent for what political phrases and views are now deemed illegal as China looks to stamp out dissent following huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.

Forgotten relic

On Tuesday, a Hong Kong court convicted a former waiter of terrorism and inciting secession in the first trial conducted under the new national security law.

During that trial, judges ruled that the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” was secessionist and therefore a national security crime.

Tam’s trial was delayed so judges could wait for Tuesday’s verdict, which was from a higher court.

In Hong Kong, sedition is broadly defined as any words that generate “hatred, contempt or disaffection” towards the government or “encourage disaffection” among residents.

It was first penned by colonial ruler Britain in 1938 and had long been criticised as an anti-free speech law.

By the time of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover, it had not been used for decades and was a largely forgotten relic on the statute books in a city that had become a regional bastion of free speech.

But China is currently remoulding Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image and the newly created national security police unit has resurrected the sedition law.

Last week, five members of a pro-democracy Hong Kong union that published children’s books about sheep trying to hold back wolves from their village were arrested for sedition.

Three have since been charged and remanded into custody.

Sedition carries up to two years in jail for a first offence.

In contrast, the national security law is much harsher with up to life in prison for those who are convicted of serious offences.

Disclaimer: This article was originally published by AFP

Queen secretly lobbied Scottish ministers for climate law exemption

The Guardian

July 29, 2021: The Queen’s lawyers secretly lobbied Scottish ministers to change a draft law to exempt her private land from a major initiative to cut carbon emissions, documents reveal.

The exemption means the Queen, one of the largest landowners in Scotland, is the only person in the country not required to facilitate the construction of pipelines to heat buildings using renewable energy.

Her lawyers secured the dispensation from Scotland’s government five months ago by exploiting an obscure parliamentary procedure known as Queen’s consent, which gives the monarch advance sight of legislation.

The arcane parliamentary mechanism has been borrowed from Westminster, where it has existed as a custom since the 1700s.

In a series of reports into Queen’s consent in recent months, the Guardian revealed how the Queen repeatedly used her privileged access to draft laws to lobby ministers to change UK legislation to benefit her private interests or reflect her opinions between the late 1960s and the 1980s.

The new documents, uncovered by Lily Humphreys, a researcher for the Scottish Liberal Democrats using freedom of information laws, disclose how the monarch used her special access to Scottish legislation to intervene in the parliamentary process as recently as February.

The documents also suggest Nicola Sturgeon’s government failed to disclose the monarch’s lobbying this year when a Scottish politician used a parliamentary debate to query why the Queen was securing an exemption from the green energy bill.

The move appears at odds with the royal family’s public commitment to tackling the climate crisis, with Prince William recently joining his father, Charles, in campaigning to cut emissions and protect the planet.

Sturgeon’s government heralded the bill as a key piece of legislation to combat the climate emergency. It said the law, known as the heat networks bill, would help cut emissions, reduce fuel poverty and create green jobs.

The legislation enabled the construction of pipelines to heat clusters of homes and businesses using renewable energy, rather than from separate fossil fuel boilers.

On 12 January, John Somers, Sturgeon’s principal private secretary, wrote to Sir Edward Young, the Queen’s most senior aide, asking for her consent to the heat networks bill. In his letter, Somers said it would allow companies and public authorities to compulsorily buy land from landowners.

On 3 February, officials working for Paul Wheelhouse, the then energy minister, recorded that the Queen’s lawyers raised concerns about the bill. They also recorded he had agreed to alter the bill, noting the “minister agreed to proposed amendment that would addressed [sic] concerns from Queen’s solicitors”. This had been done in relation to the Queen’s consent process.

On 17 February, a courtier told the Scottish government the Queen had given her consent to allow the bill to be passed.

Five days later, when MSPs debated the bill, Wheelhouse put forward an amendment that applied only to land privately owned by the Queen. It specifically prevents companies and public authorities from compelling the Queen to sell pieces of her land to enable the green energy pipelines to be built.

Buckingham Palace says Queen’s consent, a process requiring ministers to notify lawyers when a proposed bill might affect her public powers or private interests, is a “purely formal” part of the parliamentary process.

However, there are increasing examples where the Queen has taken advantage of her consent privileges to require changes before she formally consents to the law proceeding through parliament. That appears to have occurred on this occasion in Scotland, where the procedure – known as crown consent – operates in the same way.

During the debate over the parliamentary bill, Andy Wightman, then an independent MSP, objected to the amendment, arguing it was wrong to single out the Queen for preferential treatment.

Wheelhouse responded that the amendment was “required to ensure the smooth passage of the bill”. However, he did not disclose that the Queen’s lawyers had lobbied for the change. The amendment was passed with Wightman and a handful of other MSPs opposing it.

After being informed about the new documents, Wightman said he was “shocked to discover that the amendment was put in place in order to secure Queen’s consent. That should have been stated in the debate.

Disclaimer: This article was originally published by the Guardian.